County to provide bus transportation for students exempted from redistricting
At Thursday’s meeting of the Albemarle County School Board, school division staff outlined new instructional initiatives for high schools included in Superintendent Pam Moran’s funding request for 2018-19.
Moran has requested about $607,000 to open a small satellite facility on leased space dedicated to project-based learning for high school students.
Since 2016, Albemarle’s High School 2022 initiative has generated ideas for expanding student-designed, interdisciplinary and community-based learning experiences throughout the division.
In December, the School Board voted to pursue the phased construction of satellite centers to address the division’s enrollment capacity needs and provide equity of access to specialized programs.
Deputy Superintendent Matt Haas said Albemarle’s proof-of-concept pilot for the high school centers would be named the Center for Creativity and Invention, or “Albemarle Tech.” He said the location of the pilot center has yet to be determined.
“Creating these high school centers is a big commitment,” said School Board member Stephen Koleszar. “If for some reason it’s not a viable concept, it’s better to learn now than after we have spent $40 million in capital [on a larger center].”
“If it works, the center model will have a huge payoff,” said Haas, who will succeed Moran as superintendent next year. “But for it to work, it’s going to take a lot of work ... It’s going to be a huge undertaking to make sure that each student has the right work-based or community-based learning experience that’s right for them.”
Haas said the pilot center would enable the school division to remove an existing trailer adjacent to Building Services on the Albemarle High School campus by providing a new workspace for some of the division’s technology support staff.
Haas said Albemarle Tech, if funded, would open next year with 20 to 40 seniors, a lead teacher and staff from the county’s Learning Technology Integration team. He said the center eventually would host 150 students from each of the county’s comprehensive high schools.
Haas said seniors at Albemarle Tech would be able to choose a specialized learning pathway based on their interests. His presentation to the School Board identified cybersecurity, virtual reality and agricultural technology as possible pathways, among many others.
Moran also has requested $378,270 for additional teachers at each high school in order to implement a new freshman seminar course. All ninth-graders would be required to take the seminar next year.
Haas said the seminar would be designed to help students better understand their own learning processes, develop emotional intelligence and learn strategies for overcoming adversity and stress. He said the seminar groups would be capped at 15 students.
“The problem that we have right now, that we want to address, is that the current structure of the high school schedule does not guarantee students access to building relationships with teachers, or social-emotional and career development opportunities,” Haas said.
School Board member Jason Buyaki said making the seminar a required course could rob students of the opportunity to take an elective they are interested in.
“There are some students who are totally focused on art and drama and many of the electives, instead of just their core [classes],” he said.
Haas said students have enough room in their four-year course load to add the freshman seminar. He said many students choose to take a release period or study hall in their senior year instead of an additional class.
“I don’t see it as a big deal to push one more class that [a student] may want to take into their senior year,” he said. “And the seminar will help students map out the electives they will want to take.”
Moran has requested $226,059 to hire three instructional coaches to support High School 2022 programming and $75,353 for a new position to coordinate work- and community-based learning opportunities for students.
The overall funding request for fiscal year 2019 is a $7.58 million, or 4.2 percent, increase over this year’s budget. The School Board will hold a public hearing on the budget Tuesday.
Also on Thursday, the School Board voted, 6-0, to provide bus transportation for students affected by the county’s latest redistricting who are permitted to stay at their current school through a grandfather clause. School Board member David Oberg was absent.
On Jan. 11, the School Board approved a redistricting of more than 200 students in Albemarle’s urban ring around Charlottesville. The redistricting is intended to relieve overcrowding at Agnor-Hurt and Greer Elementary schools, primarily by bringing more students to an expanded Woodbrook Elementary next year.
The grandfather clause approved by the School Board allows:
» all rising fifth-graders and their siblings to remain at Greer or Agnor-Hurt for one more year;
» all rising seventh- and eighth-graders to remain at Burley for the completion of middle school; and
» siblings of grandfathered students who start sixth grade at Burley in the 2018-19 school year to stay at Burley through eighth grade. No subsequent siblings will be eligible.
Jim Foley, director of transportation for the county schools, said busing 79 grandfathered students would cost $4,120 next year, with only negligible costs the following year.
At the School Board’s first budget work session on Tuesday, Foley said he was concerned that busing grandfathered students in Albemarle’s densely populated urban ring sets a precedent that would be expensive to maintain in large, rural school zones.
While Agnor-Hurt, Greer and Woodbrook serve a combined area of 14 square miles, Stone-Robinson Elementary draws students from a 108-square-mile area.
Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county schools, said the demographics of the population affected by the recent redistricting gave further reason to provide bus transportation in this case.
“I don’t think we have ever moved this many economically disadvantaged students who are incapable of driving themselves,” he said.